Addressing ‘Implicit Bias’ on Decision Making

implicit-biasThere is a growing understanding and recognition of the causes, impact, and prevention of implicit bias. Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines implicit bias as “…relatively unconscious and relatively automatic features of prejudiced judgment and social behavior.” There are many experts on this topic, including faculty and staff on our own campus. It is important that we recognize the existence of implicit bias in ourselves, in others, and in organizations, and take responsibility to understand and prevent it from occurring.

Workshops
The Academic Leadership Team (ALT) and President’s Executive Committee hosted three implicit bias workshops on Friday, February 19, 2016 for department chairs and directors, associate deans and associate vice presidents, vice provosts, deans, vice presidents, the President and members of the PSU Board of Trustees. Vice President for Global Diversity and Inclusion, Carmen Suarez, invited Dr. Benjamin Reese to lead the workshops. Dr. Reese is Vice President of the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University and Duke University Health System and a founding member and conference chair of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

A workshop does not make experts of those who attended, nor is it a one-time fix or a checking-off-a-box to address the implicit biases that happen on our campus. We know we have much work to do to address and eliminate implicit bias. I was, however, encouraged to see the great turnout for the workshops and the desire for attendees to listen about the negative impacts on decision-making, examine our own implicit biases, and reflect and learn on how individuals and organizations can better address these issues.

Workshop Discussions
Dr. Reese talked about stereotypes and the negative impact they have on how we view an individual’s potential and performance based on their height and weight, gender, race, accent and tone, and attire. He presented compelling research on how verbal and non-verbal, subtle and, sometimes not so subtle, comments and the meaning behind them can contribute to insults, degradation, frustration and anger. These types of microaggressions can trigger and activate past experiences and amplify negative feelings. He offered suggestions for recognizing microaggressions and, how cognitive restructuring, development of social support, and interventions can help.

Shared Research
Dr. Reese shared research studies conducted on infants and children at ages five, seven, and as teenagers, that show that implicit bias begins early in life. He gave examples of neurological studies that show how certain parts of our brain use different networks in reacting to inanimate objects and social worlds. He spoke about how society reinforces many associations and how first impressions influence our assessments of individuals and situations.

Dr. Reese provided suggestions on how to be cognizant of immediate first reactions and recognizing one’s own strong preferences, inclinations and acknowledged biases.

His list of suggestions for understanding and addressing some of our implicit biases and decision-making included:

  • Understanding the process behind implicit bias and the associated research
  • Awareness and prevention of societal stereotypes
  • Insights into areas of potential blind spots
  • Replacing stereotypes with objective information
  • Increasing opportunities for contact with other groups
  • Implementing strategies to increase objectivity in reviewing individuals
  • Bystander and colleague feedback

Students, staff, faculty and administrators must continue to expand our understanding of implicit bias – how it impacts our search processes, performance assessments, decision-making, classroom climate and opportunities. In fact, in the spring, we will be hosting workshops for FY17 faculty searches that incorporate our learnings on implicit bias. Our Strategic Plan goals, initiatives and equity lens call for us to create an environment at PSU that is open, inclusive, and committed to diversity. We have also heard the need for change from some of our students of color.

The workshops on February 19 were just one of many ways in which we plan to raise the visibility of implicit bias and address it on our PSU campus.

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